When Can Babies Face Forward? Using Car Seats Correctly
As a new parent, knowing when can babies face forward in a car seat is extremely important for the safety of your child.
Below, we discuss the appropriate time for a baby to sit in a forward-facing car seat.
We include the scientific reasons behind the issue, as well as the most common problems parents encounter when traveling with their baby in a rear-facing car seat.
We used to base the decision on a child's age, but recent safety studies have suggested we change that.
When Can Babies Face Forward in a Car Seat?
Up until recently, it was believed that babies can start facing forward in the car when they are around one year of age.
The same can be said when your baby is around 20 pounds in weight.
However, the truth is it is beneficial and safer for a child to remain in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible.
Ideally, until they outgrow the car seat’s weight limit set by the manufacturer, they just continue using the car seat for the highest level of safety.
Is a Rear-Facing Car Seat the Safest Option?
The speed and level of development can dramatically vary from child to child, especially in the very early years.
For example, some children can support the weight of their head much earlier than others.
This is why it’s challenging to suggest that one particular age or weight will guarantee the child will be ready for the change.
The reason why rear-facing seats are safer is that a child’s neck, head, and torso are not fully developed when they’re very young. This makes them extremely vulnerable to any kind of impact.
A young baby’s bones are not yet fully formed, consisting more of a stretchy cartilage matter. A young infant's head is also proportionately much heavier than that of a fully grown adult.
These two factors combined mean that the chance of a baby’s spinal cord breaking after suffering from the impact of a collision is significantly increased.
While it might be a lot more pleasant traveling with your child facing forward, safety should, of course, always be your number one concern.
In case of a collision, the support provided by your child’s rear-facing car seat should be enough to protect your baby’s head and neck.
The majority of collisions are head-on, which means that your baby would suffer from severe neck injuries if facing forward.
The design of the car seat has been specially adapted to absorb a large percent of the crash force, spreading the remaining crash force over a larger percentage of the body.
When facing forward, the force of the collision puts an enormous amount of strain on your baby’s underdeveloped neck and spine.
However, your baby’s rear-facing car seat has been primarily designed to cradle your baby’s head and cushion the blow.
When rear-facing, your baby's back, neck, and head all move in unison with the impact, therefore distributing the impact over a larger area.
Once your baby has outgrown their first baby car seat, you may need to purchase a new forward-facing car seat.
Alternatively, you could also consider buying a higher quality adjustable seat that grows with your child.
There is a vast selection of seats available on the market that are suitable for both rear-facing and front-facing positions.
They are designed to be for multi-purpose use and may also be modified to function as a booster seat for later in your child’s development.
Making the Switch Prematurely
Unfortunately, many parents prematurely move their child into a forward-facing car seat, but why the rush?
Let’s have a look at some of the most common reasons why parents make the switch prematurely.
1. They believe it’s safer.
Many parents actually believe that a child is safer facing forward, just like adults.
That, and the question of comfort and ease, convince parents that it is time to switch the baby’s seat position around.
An incredible amount of parents make the decision to simply switch their child’s seating position to forward-facing before they even reach the age of two.
One of the most significant factors contributing to this decision is the lack of education regarding child-vehicle safety.
A common concern from parents is that a child facing backward will break their legs in the event of a crash.
All the while, they fail to really understand the alarming threat of a head or spinal injury, which is a lot more hazardous than injury to the legs.
2. It prevents travel sickness.
Some parents decide to switch the position of the car seat because they are concerned about their child becoming car sick. Even if that is true, safety needs to take top priority.
3. Child’s Boredom
Finally, many parents turn their child around prematurely so that it’s easier to entertain them.
When facing forward, the front passengers can more easily interact with them and keep them entertained.
You can also see if they are asleep, play road games with them, and generally just check up on them much more easily.
Tips on Using a Rear-Facing Seat
It can be frustrating for infants and children facing backward all of the time, especially on long car trips.
Having a grizzly baby in the back of a car, particularly on long journeys, can be frustrating for everyone in the vehicle. It can also be distracting for the driver.
As distressing as it might be, we still recommend you keep your child in this safe position.
There are some methods you can use to keep your baby calm and content.
1. Use a Mirror
You can provide a mirror in the rear of the car so that the baby can see him or herself while you’re driving along.
You can also strategically place a mirror so that the baby can see you and vice versa, which also allows you to more easily check up on them.
2. Play Music
You can also try playing soothing music to help the baby drift off to sleep.
A lot of babies sleep well in the car due to the rhythm of the engine and the warmth of the vehicle. Take advantage of this fact and let your baby fall asleep.
3. Travel Companions
If you have a passenger traveling with you, you can ask them to ride in the back with the baby.
They can help to keep them entertained with games or provide healthy snacks—whatever will distract the child and help to keep them calm.
This way, as the driver, you can completely focus on the road.
If you don’t have a passenger with you, then always make sure you travel with your baby’s favorite toy. Toys are also a great way to soothe your distressed child.
If the child is slightly older, then maybe even an Ipad or phone screen could entertain and calm them down, taking their focus away from boredom or discomfort.
5. Rest Stops and Fresh Air
If you are on a long car journey, we highly recommend making plenty of rest stops and taking your child out of the car.
Fresh air can be beneficial in reducing motion sickness, so we also recommend driving with your window slightly open.
Do not let a little bit of motion sickness deter you from sticking to a rear-facing car seat, though. The safety of your baby should always be your primary concern.
If you’ve been wondering when can babies face forward in a car seat, our advice is not to make the switch prematurely.
Recent findings and safety trials have proven that your baby should continue to travel in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible.
You can buy car seats that will grow with your baby, from a newborn to toddler, and even up to a booster seat for a child up to 13 years of age.
Do not let motion sickness or mild discomfort stop you from doing what's right and making the safest decisions for your child.
Use our top tips to make car trips more enjoyable for your kids, even when facing backward.
There is always a safe and enjoyable way to have a car ride with your children. You just need to find what works for you and apply it to your daily routine.